Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
It's well after dark and Leo's is full-to burstin'. The sign on the door says the tiny Hillcrest eatery closes at 8 p.m., but the diners don't seem in a hurry even as the hour nears 9. From time to time, an older gentleman or woman, gets up from a spot at the table nearest the kitchen and takes an order, refills a glass, cuts a big piece of chocolate cake, or rings up a bill.
Leo's has been around for more than 100 years, under one name or another, like Phil's Snack Bar—one of many facts the regulars may not know. For instance, it's Leo's Greek Castle, not just Leo's, and Hector Parodi owns it, not a man named Leo.
He isn't from Greece either, but hails from Argentina near Buenos Aires, although his family is Italian.
With the help of Hector's uncle, he and his wife Alicia immigrated to the United States, landing in California.
He landed a job with Jacuzzi, maker of whirlpools and hot tubs. Within a year, the couple bought a home near Oakland, CA. It is his work for Jacuzzi that brought him to Little Rock.
After moving to Little Rock for Jacuzzi, Hector also worked for a credit union and started a night shift in Casa Bonita's kitchen. Eventually, he went to work for the restaurant chain full time and later took a job managing the Western Sizzlin on Rodney Parham. It wasn't long before Arkansas felt like home.
About 18 years ago, he retired from the restaurant and managed to hang around the house for about two months before deciding retirement wasn't for him.
In short order, he ran across an old abandoned restaurant in Hillcrest called Leo's. "It was dubbed a Greek castle, but there wasn't a moat," Hector jokes.
It wasn't long before the restaurant was back up and running. The regulars returned, and a whole new generation discovered their ethnic flavor.